Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm
Many research studies (eg Arnold, 1995) have demonstrated a link between having been abused as a child and self-harm. In one study,84% of individuals who self-harmed reported that childhood trauma had contributed to their condition.
WHAT IS SELF-HARM?
The following are examples:
-compulsive skin picking
-interfering with wound healing
-swallowing foreign objects
-pulling off nails
Whilst it sounds counter-intuitive, self-harm is fundamentally a COPING MECHANISM born out of trauma and a profound sense of powerlessness.
Self-harm has been described as a kind of ‘pain-exchange’. This means invisible, extreme emotional pain is converted into visible, physical wounds. After a period of self-injury individuals report feeling calmer and more able to cope. Self-injuring causes the brain to release ‘natural pain killers’ which may have the twin effect of diminishing psychological pain. A further theory is that, due to an individual’s self-loathing (see later in the post), self-injury acts as a form of self-punishment which the individual consciously or unconsciously believes s/he deserves.
Typically, people who self-harm are emotionally fragile and highly sensitive to rejection.
Not all self-harm is direct. Indirect methods include:
-extreme risk taking
-staying in an abusive relationship
With these, the damage is not immediate, but, rather, they are physically and/or psychologically damaging over the long-term.
TYPES OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ASSOCIATED WITH SELF-HARM.
The following have been found to be associated with self-harm:
-loss of primary care giver (eg through divorce)
-having ’emotionally absent’ parent/s
-growing up in a chaotic family (eg due to parental mental health problems)
-being raised in the care system
–role reversal in child-parent relationship (eg child acting as a disturbed parent’s counselor)
Furthermore, many who self-harm have NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS such as the following:
-I am bad/evil
-I am worth nothing
-I shouldn’t have been born
-I’m never good enough
-I don’t deserve to be happy
-I don’t fit in anywhere
-there’s something wrong with me
Such beliefs lead to: SELF-LOATHING and EXTREME LOW SELF-ESTEEM. This in turn leads to emotional distress which can trigger acts of self-harm such as those illustrated in this post. My next post will look at ways we can minimize our risk of self-harming.
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David Hosier BSc(Hons); MSc; PGDE(FAHE).